A supposedly secret but locally well-known CIA station on the outskirts of Irbil’s airport is undergoing rapid expansion as the United States considers whether to engage in a war against Islamist militants who’ve seized control of half of Iraq in the past month.
Western contractors hired to expand the facility and a local intelligence official confirmed the construction project, which is visible from the main highway linking Irbil to Mosul, the city whose fall June 9 triggered the Islamic State’s sweep through northern and central Iraq. Residents around the airport say they can hear daily what they suspect are American drones taking off and landing at the facility.
Expansion of the facility comes as it seems all but certain that the autonomous Kurdish regional government and the central government in Baghdad, never easy partners, are headed for an irrevocable split _ complicating any U.S. military hopes of coordinating the two entities’ efforts against the Islamic State.
The autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government angered Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki when early in the crisis it sent its pershmerga militia to seize the long-contested city of Kirkuk when Iraqi troops abandoned it. Relations have deteriorated since. On Wednesday, Maliki accused Kurdish President Massoud Barzani sheltering Islamic State members. The next day, Barzani demanded that Maliki resign.